Glorious Decay

Photo Karen Graham.
One of the remaining maple trees shows a brilliant display but also evidence of its decline with dead branches piercing through the leaves on its perimeter.

The Sugar Maple at the end of my street is now a brilliant fiery orange and lighting up the whole street. I know my large maple will colour soon too, although never quite as vividly. And in Medd’s Mountain several trees are vying for the most colourful. I always think the first autumn colour highlighted against the normal green is in reality far lovelier than the fireworks we often get later. The ash trees (real ash not Mountain Ash) are a deep purple colour right now. They are always the first to colour ; and they really contribute to our fall show. September a year ago my column was about the lovely old ash tree at the mouth of Medd’s Mountain Park (see “The Death of a Tree”, September 2019). That beautiful, majestic tree did not leaf out this spring and it has been taken down. The homeowner closest to the park must have requested sections of the main trunk because they are lying on his property. The main trunk is massive and standing beside it, it came up to my hip. The telltale signs of Emerald Ash Borer are indeed evident where the bark has fallen away. It was a venerable tree and I miss it.

Last month’s column revisited one written in 2014. In that year our first frost was on the morning of September 14th. This year’s was only a day later and several mornings following were frosty as well.  The morning of September 15th, aside from frost, was interesting because of the sunrise. As I was rounding the pond, setting out on my walk, I saw the sun just above the treetops. It was such an orangey-red that, had it not been so bright, I would have thought I was looking at a harvest moon. I learned afterwards that this was from the terrible forest fires burning on the west coast of the US.

The early (well to my mind early) cold weather made me research a little the first day of fall. This year it was September 22nd. But what I didn’t know is that there are two ways of reckoning the first day of each season: the astronomical versus the meteorological. Everyone knows the date of the astronomical beginning of each season even though the dates vary from year to year from the 20th to the 22nd. However, the meteorological start is always the first of the pertinent month. So in this way of reckoning, fall begins on the first of September. In my experience this does capture better what really happens.

Anyone who has been out walking, especially in wooded areas, will know that this year has been a bumper year for fungus. Mushrooms, or toadstools, of every shape and kind have been abundant. The range of colours is remarkable from almost pure white, through yellows to red. These fungus often emerge overnight and this remarkable growth always makes me think of the untold numbers of microscopic life that live beneath our feet. Soil teams with life and vast invisible networks are responsible for turning dead plant life into soil. It really is miraculous and glorious in its scope–and so absolutely essential.

Enjoy the fall colours while you can because soon the leaves will be off the trees, revealing a different beauty. The ephemeral beauty of the coloured leaves gives way to  stark, angular forms, equally beautiful in their own way. Recently, a friend and neighbour lent me an old book on gardening. “The Gardener’s Year” by Karel Capek (originally published in Czech in 1929) is a delightful book full of humour, wisdom and observation. A section on the fall of the year and the fall of leaves really caught my attention; and it holds such truth and optimism that I know you’ll enjoy it too:

“It is a popular opinion that in autumn leaves fall off, and I really cannot deny it; I assert only that in a certain deeper sense autumn  is the time when in fact the leaves bud. Leaves wither because winter begins; but they also wither because spring is already beginning, because new buds are being made….It is an optical illusion that trees and bushes are naked in autumn; they are, in fact, sprinkled over with everything that will unpack and unroll in spring.”

The fall is definitely here. Get out! And enjoy!

GET OUT! by Glen Spurrell

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